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Measure to bring $219 million to McConnell continues to move through Congress

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 21, 2013, at 12:10 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 6:17 a.m.

More than $200 million for construction improvements at McConnell Air Force Base is moving through the congressional process in preparation for the arrival of the new KC-46A refueling tankers.

The Senate Appropriations Committee this week passed the funding bill that included $219 million for projects at McConnell for fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1.

The next step is for the full Senate to take up the measure.

If the bill clears that hurdle, it will go before a Senate-House conference committee. A vote would then be required from the full House, although that is regarded as procedural move because the House approved a placeholder amount for McConnell earlier this month.

The final step would require President Obama’s signature.

Last week, the full House passed the National Defense Authorization Act – a policy measure for establishing what military construction is done – that also included the $219 million for McConnell.

The funding comes after the Air Force last month selected McConnell to receive 36 new tankers in 2016 in the first round of assigning the new aircraft. At the time, Obama’s budget called for an estimated $192 million in upgrades for McConnell, but that figure was put together before it was known which base would be selected.

The amount was increased by $27 million after more specific information was gathered on what McConnell would need to house the new tankers. Air Force documentation shows an additional $39 million will be requested in the future, probably in 2015.

The bill for military construction funding is separate from the bill that sets the nation’s overall budget, which can get bogged down in Congress. The military construction bill is considered less controversial.

Bids for work at McConnell are expected to go out sometime after Oct. 1 and work would start in 2014. The $219 million includes $194 million for construction of three new hangars.

Kansas’ congressional delegation called the most recent congressional action a step forward in preparing McConnell for the tankers and as noted the economic impact of the construction for the area.

“It is great news for our state and the city of Wichita,” Sen. Jerry Moran said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita said the new construction “ensures a longstanding commitment from the Air Force for years to come.”

Tankers are the linchpin for the military because they provide the fuel to keep airborne missions going around the world.

McConnell won’t receive final approval as the home for the new tankers until after an environmental impact statement is completed next spring. That measure, which is required by federal law, is expected to be routine since McConnell has been home to the existing KC-135 tankers for decades.

The Air Force on May 22 selected McConnell to serve as the main active-duty base for the tankers. Altus Air Force base in Oklahoma and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire also were picked for KC-46A assignments.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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